Friday, February 4, 2022

Charm and Drama - 353-355 West 30th Street

The entrance today was originally a shared carriageway to the rear yard.

In 1861, George A. Harriot and his wife, the former Julia Sumners, purchased the newly built house at 353 West 30th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  It was one of what appeared to be two mirror image, Italianate homes.  The architect, however, had creatively fooled the eye.  The Harriot house was just 19-feet wide, while its fraternal twin at 353 was an ample 26-feet.  The difference was necessary to accommodate the "carriage-way"--a pathway that tunneled through the middle of the properties to the rear yard.

Harriot was an inspector for the city.  He and Julia had two daughters, Georgiana and Susan (known familiarly as Susie).  Both would become teachers.  Susie taught in Primary School No. 24 on Horatio Street in 1868, and her younger sister Georgiana began teaching in Grammar School No. 16 on West 13th Street in 1876.

Any happiness the family had over Georgiana's new job turned to sorrow that year.  Shortly after falling ill that winter, George died on December 3, 1876 at the age of 65.  His funeral was held in the house three days later.

Julia now took in boarders to supplement her income.  In 1871 Dr. Daniel H. Kitchen lived with the family, and the following year another physician, Stephen M. Roberts rented a room.  Julia's advertisement in November 1873 read, "A private family will let two connecting rooms, furnished, on parlor floor, to one or two responsible gentlemen; location desirable."

Her boarder in 1878, Louis M. Tucker, was not so "responsible."  Although The New York Times described him as being "about 24 years of age, prepossessing in appearance, and is said to be of good family," his character, or at least his judgment, was flawed.  On October 6, The Sun reported, "The Rev. Joseph D. Hull and family went into the country on the 20th of June last, leaving their elegantly furnished house in charge of Louise M. Tucker, a young man in the grocery business."  The practice of entrusting someone to check on one's house during an extended absence was both common and practical.  But the minister had chosen the wrong man for the job.

The Sun explained, "the residence of Rev. Joseph Hull was turned into a club house.  It became a scene of the wildest dissipation, the drunken members sleeping off their liquor on the elegant furniture."  The group that had started as Tucker and three male friends, was enlarged with the inclusion of "five young women from Boston."  The revelries continued throughout the summer.

By September, Tucker had to deal with the fact that the Hulls would soon be returning.  On September 11, The New York Times reported, "Mr. Hull received from Tucker a letter informing him that his house had been broken into and robbed."  And he had the insolence to ask for "a remittance to meet the expense of searching for the burglars."  Hull rushed home to find between $300 and $400 of jewelry and clothing missing.  It did not take long to discover the truth.  Hull questioned his neighbors who said they had been shocked by the "boisterous revelry."  Tucker was arrested for grand larceny, but was released on a lack of evidence that he had stolen the items.

Julia died on November 6, 1891.  The house was inherited jointly by her daughters.

In the meantime, the larger house next door had been home to Eli French, a book dealer on Nassau Street, until 1869 when it was purchased by Margaret Wilson Petrie, the widow of merchant David Petrie.  Moving in with her was the family of her daughter and son-in-law, Margaret Louise and Alexander Buchanan.  They had four children, Theodore David, Alexina Louise, and Marcella.  Tragically, only months after moving in Theodore died "suddenly" on May 18, 1870.

Alexander Buchanan was a physician, and his office was installed on the ground floor.  His wife later described, "The office did not take up the whole of the front.  There was the carriage-way in the front; also a hall by the side of the office reaching to the street."  The couple's daughters enjoyed a life of privilege.  Julia would recall in 1901 that they had "private teachers," including "a governess, and French, music and German teachers."  

Margaret Petrie died on May 13, 1872.  Although the house was inherited by her son, John, he transferred it to the Buchanans in 1875.  

The family nearly lost their home on October 31, 1884.  The furnace was lit for the first time that fall, but according to The Eagle the servants "neglected to see that the shaft leading from the heater in the cellar to the second floor was clear."  Fire broke out on the first floor.  The article said, "The doctor, his wife and three daughters slept on the second floor, and two servants on the third.  All were roused from sleep soon after midnight by the thickening smoke, and dressing hastily reach the street more or less overcome."

It took firefighters "some effort" to extinguish the blaze, which was confined to the first floor.  The damage to Buchanan's office and library was estimated at about $80,000 in today's money.  "The Doctor to-day is confined to his bed, suffering from the effects of the smoke and exposure of the night," said The Eagle.

Things in the Buchanan household were tense at the time.  Margaret had been domineering since her marriage in 1853.  Alexander's brother, James, later testified that none of the extended family was allowed to visit.  "Mrs. Buchanan had said she would not have a Buchanan enter her house, and so she was 'out' with all the members of the family of her husband."  Dr. Buchanan visited his family in their own homes, but told them "it was better" than they not come to his.

Dr. Buchanan's niece added that she once confronted Margaret saying, "I have been told that you many years ago ill-treated my uncle with force--you and your old mother--that you fell upon him and beat him and left him in an almost dying condition."  At one point, she said, Alexander Buchanan had told her, "I have lived a life of hell for thirty-five years, and I cannot stand it any longer."

Finally, on August 24, 1887, Dr. Buchanan walked out of 355 West 30th Street and never returned.  Margaret later testified, "I never saw him again."  Buchanan moved into the house of the widow Kate M. Foster and her daughter on West 71st Street.

In the summer of 1897 Dr. Buchanan became ill.  Realizing he would not survive, he told his brother "that he did not want his wife or children to know of his death or to attend his funeral," according to The Sun.  He died on September 2, leaving the bulk of his estate, including $20,000 in real estate, to Kate Foster.  He left than $50 to Margaret and $5 to each of his daughters.

It precipitated a storm of law suits by Margaret Buchanan against Kate Foster that dragged on past the turn of the century.  She sued to recover the estate and sought $50,000 damages for the alienation of her husband's affections.

Margaret and Marcella, who never married, lived on in the house for decades.  Margaret Louise died at the age of 88 on January 13, 1921.  After being in the family for nearly six decades, Marcella sold 355 West 30th Street in 1926.

The Harriot family, too, had retained possession of their home.  In reporting that Georgiana had sold 353 West 30th Street in October 1926, the New York Evening Post noted, "This is the first sale of this property since 1861."

A renovation in 1934 joined the two houses internally and converted them to apartments.  The former carriage way was incorporated into the structure and now became the entrance. 

via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Living in a ground floor apartment in 1981 were Frank Regman and Richard Williams.  On the night of February 10 a 25-year old man, Wilson Torres, broke in through their unlocked door, brandishing a gun and demanding money.  After Williams handed over cash, Torres shot the 65-year-old in the back.  In reaction, Regman, who was 63, grabbed a knife and lunged at the intruder.  He, too, was shot, but not before he fatally stabbed Torres.  Both roommates survived.

Despite the alterations, the combined houses with more than their fair share of drama, retain their 1860 charm.

photographs by the author
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